on depression and creativity


Today I'm thinking about depression. Probably because I've been able to surface and come up for air for the first time in a long time from my own. I want to talk about how people everywhere all around us keep making, keep doing, keep being though they exist with this ugly demon inside of them. The demon looks a little different for everyone. Sometimes it's a voice that says you aren't good I'll enough, you never will be. Sometimes it's the shell shock of a soft self colliding with the harsh realities of a hurting world. Sometimes it's feeling like no matter what you do or how hard you try, you simply don't and will not belong. Sometimes (and at its worst for me) it's a numbness so vast you forget how to laugh, love and hope, or that you ever did. When that numbness is sitting on your chest like the worst bully you've ever met, though it sounds melodramatic it's not an exaggeration to say that wanting to live is hard. Sometimes you don't. Trust me. 

"But it's in your head," we are told. Well, yes it is. Thank you for your astute observation. But it's also in our hearts. In our soul, in the chemical makeup of our physiology and sometimes even the inheritance of our DNA. 


Depression  is in every part of us and trying to outrun it is like every horror movie you've ever seen where you want to shout at the fools that the monster is coming, don't even bother trying to get away. 


For me, depression is the kind of monster you have to face. You have to stop running, turn around, stare the beast  in the eye and say "I guess we're doing this." Did you think I was going to say "I will defeat you?" That doesn't work either. You might win a battle, but for chronic sufferers, depression is a life long war. 


So you figure out how to dance with a monster on a battleground and call it your life. You figure out the smallest steps you can possibly take without getting eaten and/or blown up. The small steps for me are the absolute most basic-- Love. Gratitude. Humor. Art. They hurt to practice. every part of me resists. But I do because if I don't,  I die. 


these small steps, these precise movements, just as in ballet, after years and years of practice can make you graceful, can make you strong. 


It is so tempting to romantically correlate depression with artists. I love this storyline. Mad genius is my favorite movie. Still,  I resist the stereotype because it perpetuates an idea that to be an artist you have to be haunted and create from a dark place.  That is simply untrue. I know plenty of talented makers who are authentically, deeply, happy people. 


Conversely, I want to resist another stereotype. That those who seem happy, creatively successful, positive, bright and grateful cannot have hurt. cannot have deep dark caves of self-- flat murky tones that they're working with. Just because you aren't wearing or making all black doesn't mean you're not fighting it. In fact so often we learn to be bright because we have no choice. It's the survival road all those small dance steps paved. 


The point is it's complicated. The point is you never can quite tell what's going on behind a face. empathy should be equally practiced for the perceived thriving among us, the perceived struggling among us, and every one of us in between. In fact, you can skip perceiving and  cut straight to kindness to  all no matter how they seem. 


Many  of my heroes are the comedians. The ones who attempt to make jokes to lighten the mood, even with  the depression bully on their chests squeezing out their last breath. Smiling seems counterintuitive, but they do it because it's medicine. Because joking and laughing are are both a fight tactic  and a complete surrender. Life man. You better laugh or you'll cry. In the best moments, you do both. 


What's the correlation between creativity and depressed people? Could be nothing at all. But I can tell you what it is for me. I create in order to dance with my monster. I do it because my depression makes the stakes of creating pretty high. Do I love taking pictures and writing and trying to put that stuff out in the world? Um, kinda. Like on a really good day, a handful of times throughout the year. But the real answer is that I create because for me, it's matter of life or death.